The first round of the Emirates FA Cup is always a magical time, and this year no side is embodying the spirit of the world’s oldest football competition more than Westfields FC.
The Herefordshire club are the lowest ranked outfit left in the contest, and their exploits to get this far make them deserving winners of our Master at Work award for October.
Plying their trade in the ninth level of the football league pyramid, Westfields have already come through an incredible six Qualifying Rounds, and will host relative giants Curzon Ashton – from the sixth tier – to allpay.park on Saturday.
In a fitting tribute, the Midland Premier League outfit’s first ever run to this stage of the competition comes on the 50th anniversary of their founding in 1966.
Boss Sean Edwards spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes News this week, revealing just what this weekend’s Emirates FA Cup clash means to the Midland Premier outfit.
“It is the biggest game in our history, without a shadow of a doubt,” he told us.
“We had an amazing match in the FA Cup last season where we were 4-0 down at half-time and came back to win 6-5 in extra-time which I thought then was the most amazing game I’ve been involved in.”
“But this, with everything that’s gone on, there are so many things we aren’t used to, all the media attention and the expectation, everyone is so excited.”
“I think it’s actually affected our league form a little. We hadn’t lost until this month and we’ve lost our last two games!”
Westfields’ Emirates FA Cup journey began way back on August 6, a whole week before this season’s Premier League campaign kicked-off.
And their endeavours began in dramatic circumstances.
““It has been quite a journey,” Edwards explained.
“We started with an away trip to Stourport Swifts back August 6 in the Extra-Preliminary round and that was an epic game.”
“We scored two goals in the last few minutes to win 4-3, which was quite incredible.”
“We’ve obviously been lucky enough since then to draw home games in all the other rounds which has certainly helped.”
A 5-1 thrashing over Tividale followed, before St Ives Town from the seventh level of the pyramid were sent packing in the first qualifying round.
Highgate United were then beaten 4-2, before both Walton Casuals and Leiston – both from higher divisions – came unstuck in October to put Westfields into the First Round proper for the first time in their history.
The run is even more impressive given Westfields finished a disappointing 16th in the table last season.
But this time around Edwards’ men are doing the business in both league and cup.
Sitting third in the table, Westfields won their first 10 games of the season during an 18-game winning run in all competitions, and despite losing their last two league contests, sit just five points off the top with a massive six games in hand.
Edwards was keen to explain the upswing in form:
““We’ve recruited well and improved in some key areas. We brought in a couple of additional players and the vibe from the start of pre-season was really good.
“When we first called up pre-season training and got all the new lads to get together with the existing players, it was just the right vibe and I knew we were going to have a good season.”
“But I never expected us to still be in the FA Cup come the start of November!”
Life in the ninth level of the pyramid isn’t easy, and that’s something Westfields know about more than most.
Edwards – club manager for the last 16 years after spending nine years as either assistant or coach – knows what it takes to keep the club going.
“We’ve come a long way. Years ago when we were at our old ground we played Rushden and Diamonds when they were coming up through the divisions, and they had a very kind chairman called Max Griggs.”
“He allowed us to keep the proceeds from the gates that day, he didn’t want to take a penny out of the club and that was a very nice gesture and we needed that,” Edwards added.
“We’ve had good seasons where we’ve reached finals and been runners up in the league two years on the trot but not got promoted. That was a real kick in the teeth for the club because we’ve got so many good people here who raise, work and borrow every penny to allow us to compete.
“If we can have a good year that would be amazing in the 50th year of Westfields and of course the icing on the cake could be this FA Cup game on Saturday if we can get through.”
“Of course the icing on the cake was getting through and into the First Round! Anything from here on is a bonus, having the television cameras there this weekend, and Football Focus and so much more press than we usually receive.”
Edwards and Westfields are under no illusions about the challenge ahead, with National League North side Curzon four levels above them in the system, but the club won’t let their opponents steal their focus.
“We know an awful lot about Curzon. We’ve seen them play and we’ve had three independent reports done on them so we’ve done our homework,” the manager said.
“The key for us though, is if we spent the whole game worrying about them and what they do, we’ll push away from the things we’ve done well this year.”
Football Focus will be at allpay.park this Saturday afternoon, while the Match of the Day cameras will also be in attendance, and for Edwards, Westfields’ tale is what the Emirates FA Cup is all about.
“Our story embodies the spirit of the FA Cup.
“The First, Second and Third Rounds are the best in some ways because they bring up all the different stories, like us at Westfields in our 50th anniversary and that’s something people want to cover, which is great.
“When it gets to the Fifth or Sixth Round and Man United are playing Liverpool, that’s a different game.
“But for us, this is grassroots football and everything the FA Cup brings for clubs like us is fantastic. The money it brings and the kudos, and all the publicity we’ve had over the last month has been incredible.”
And ahead of Saturday’s game, Edwards will be revelling in the Emirates FA Cup spirit.
“The ultimate goal at the club was to try and have a season where we can get promotion in our 50th anniversary, but we’ll take an FA Cup run every day.
“It’s just a one off and to be in this position really, everything else goes out of the window. We’re not thinking about the league at the moment, we’re focussing on Saturday and it’s a massive, momentous day for all of us at the club.”
The bookies make Westfields 7/2 to cause another famous Emirates FA Cup upset this weekend, and after what they’ve achieved already this season, it would take a brave man to best against Edwards and his history-making men.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing